Week four of the college season was highlighted by the Wisconsin Badgers pulling off another major upset as well as the end of the coaching tenure of Les Myles at LSU. Scouts witnessed standout performances by a pair of offensive linemen and the rise of a sleeper receiver from Syracuse. Along with notes on Randy Gregory, here are the Risers and Sliders for week four.
Mason Cole/C/Michigan: Entering the season I stamped Cole as a third round offensive tackle but his game has taken off since he moved to center this year. During the humiliation of Penn State on Saturday the Wolverines posted 515-offensive yards, including 326-yards on the ground and Cole was incredibly impressive from start to finish. He blocks with great fundamentals, leverage and power. Cole was effective at the line of scrimmage as well as on the second level. I came away thinking that while Cole was a good left tackle prospect, he could be a great center on Sunday.
Damien Mama/G/USC: After much anticipation the Trojans season has quickly turned into a nightmare. The fourth quarter loss to Utah on Friday won’t build morale yet Mama’s play was inspiring. The junior guard showed great power in his game, opening up running lanes and helping USC amass 221-rushing yards. He was very impressive when used as a pulling guard and showed no issues quickly getting across the line of scrimmage then removing linebackers from the action. Should he enter the draft and all the boxes are checked I could see Mama landing in the third round.
Evan Engram/TE/Mississippi: It was pretty much a hot mess for the Georgia Bulldogs who got romped by Mississippi from the word go and Engram was the offensive star of the game. The senior finished with 6 receptions for 95 yards (15.8-yard average) with 1 score. And while Georgia’s defense leaves a lot to be desired, Engram continues to prove he’s a big play tight end as he’s averaging more than 15-yards on 20 receptions this season. A second day selection next April is a definite possibility if Engram continues to play at this level then works out well prior to the draft.
Kenneth Ekanem/DE/Virginia Tech: Ekanem is possibly the most underappreciated pass rusher in the nation yet has totaled 10 tackles behind the line of scrimmage in four games this season besides 5 quarterback hurries. During the Hokies victory over East Carolina on Saturday he produced 5 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 2 sacks and 2 QBH. Ekanem lacks desired size/speed numbers for the next level but is a menace off the edge and projects well as a designated pass rusher/special teams player.
Jamal Williams/RB/BYU: Williams was highly rated prior to the knee injury which sidelined him in 2015 then was stamped as a street free agent by scouts upon his return this year. Its an opinion he’s forcing evaluators to rethink. In four games Williams has totaled 417 yards rushing, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. His latest effort included 169-yards and 2 scores on 24 carries during the loss to West Virginia. Williams has the size (6-foot/215-pounds) and quickness to make a Sunday roster as the third back if his knee checks out.
Damarius Travis/S/Minnesota: Travis was stamped as a late round prospect entering the season and he could be a steal during the draft’s final day next April. Possessing next level size (6-feet/215-pounds) and physicality, Travis posted 8 tackles and picked off 1 pass during the Gophers victory over Colorado State. He projects as a conventional strong safety and should lend a hand on special teams.
Sleeper Prospect- Amba Etta-Tawo/WR/Syracuse: Entering the season not a single Syracuse senior was considered draftable by scouts but that opinion is quickly changing. Etta-Tawo, the senior transfer from Maryland, is off to a career start and has taken well to the high octane offense of first year coach Dino Babers. Etta-Tawo posted 12 receptions for 270-yards with 2 scores on Saturday against a UConn defense which boasts a pair of top flight prospects in the secondary, cornerback Jamar Summers and safety Obi Melifonwu. In four games this season his line reads 40 receptions, 706 yards (17.65-yd average) and 5 touchdowns. Not to be forgotten is the fact coach Babers recently developed such receivers as Roger Lewis (2016 UDFA presently on the New York Giants active roster) and Gehrig Dieter (presently averaging 26-yards per reception since transferring to Alabama). Over the next three weeks the Orange face Notre Dame, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech, three programs with highly rated cornerbacks which will offer Etta-Tawo more opportunities to state his case to NFL decision makers.
Small School Prospect- Max Rich/T/Harvard: Harvard placed a pair of offensive linemen from the 2016 class on NFL rosters; Cole Toner selected by the Arizona Cardinals in the fifth round resides on the team’s two deep while Anthony Fabiano can be found on the Cleveland Browns practice squad. That number could increase to three next year if Max Rich continues to impress. Lining up at left tackle for the Crimson, Rich has NFL size (6-feet, 6.5-inches and 315-pounds), strength and brings a well rounded game. He’s strong enough to drive opponents off the line run blocking and makes great use of angles and body positioning to protect his quarterback. My one concern is the lack of leverage he employs but Rich could slide into the last round with impressive pre-draft workouts.
Tarean Folston/RB/Notre Dame: Scouts stamped Folston as a top three senior running back prospect entering the season and graded him as a potential top 45 choice despite the fact he missed most of 2015 with a torn ACL. His return has been a struggle and Folston has been relegated to rotational duty rather than being the feature ball handler at Notre Dame. The past two games Folston carried the ball just 9 times for 31 yards.
Notes: Prior to the 2015 combine I took a lot of heat for predicting Randy Gregory would be the surprise slider in April then even more heat after I stamped him as a late second/early third round choice. Gregory ended up as the 60th selection of that draft and is presently in the midst of a suspension which will keep him from the field until at least December 18th. I asked several insiders around the league what they thought of Gregory’s future and the opinions varied.
Pessimistically several came right out and told me “he’s finished,” and they don’t expect Gregory to play any meaningful or productive football in the future.
Some close to the situation tell me the next 2-plus months will be the determining factor. As one person put it, if Gregory is able to stay clean throughout his suspension it will be a personal and professional triumph. Otherwise his NFL career will likely never materialize.